The Changing Canadian Neighbourhood

According to the census, family makeups are changing. However, homes and cities aren’t keeping up. Here’s how some communities are adapting.


If you are a single person living alone in a house, a multigenerational clan sharing digs or a couple in a downtown condo, you’re an average Canadian today.

Census data released in 2017 reveal single-person families make up 28 percent of households while couples with kids and couples without offspring are neck-in-neck at 26 percent each. And those kids stick around longer: 34 percent of adults between 20 and 34 live with their parents. Multigenerational households make up six percent of households; the fastest growing living arrangement in the country.

While demographics and living arrangements have changed, most real estate in Canada are houses designed for nuclear families.

But while demographics and living arrangements have changed, most real estate in Canada are houses designed for nuclear families. Along with clusters of rental apartments, a few senior facilities and a growing stock of downtown condos, there’s not a whole lot else out there to suit the needs of the modern Canadian family.

However, builders and municipalities are slowly starting to explore new options, but change won’t happen overnight. “It takes a long time,” says Ren Thomas, assistant professor in the School of Planning at Dalhousie University. City plans, zoning bylaws, tax breaks and bank formulas all favour the old way of doing things.

Living different lives

There are a number of factors making homebuilders think twice about putting up another detached home. There’s the census data, but also a boomer cohort that’s only getting older and more immigrant families who tend to have complex housing needs.

Our work lives are changing, too. “There’s been a shift to a service economy,” says Raphael Fischler, associate professor in the School of Urban Planning at McGill University. “People don’t commute to factories as much as they used to.”

There are more office jobs, both downtown and in suburbs, and people change jobs more often, plus there’s been a rise in self-employment.

These shifts, plus more attention on environmental and health concerns, mean more Canadians are now wanting to live downtown or in walkable communities. “Everybody wants their kids to walk to school,” says Thomas. “The suburbs are full of people who have been displaced from urban areas.”

A town in the city

Some developers are rethinking how communities should be built . Calgary’s Brookfield Residential, for instance, is building in Seton, a development on the south edge of Calgary that will have ample retail space and major employers within walking distance of high-rise condos, single-family houses and medium-density townhomes.

It’s like a city within a city. “You’d normally find that kind of development in an established downtown,” says Careen Chrusch, senior manager of strategic marketing for the company.

Similarly, the development of Quarry Park near Calgary and Bridgwater outside Winnipeg incorporate walkability, nature, nearby workplace options and a range of housing options.

It’s the homes, though, that are key. In Seton, Brookfield is offering a new design that puzzle-pieces together three homes on one-and-a-half housing lots ­­– an affordable option for multigenerational families. In another Alberta development, the company is creating homes with a main floor work space, ideal for home business.

These kinds of projects are still uncommon in Canada. Cities continue to encourage single family homes and condos, and banks do, too. “Financing is still in the dark ages. Banks only offer mortgages or loans for the kind of development we’re used to seeing,” says Thomas.

Canadians will need to fill in the gap themselves. Thomas says young people are buying sprawling suburban homes with groups of friends, while Fischler says many Canadians are renovating to get what they need.

Many people are still attached to the idea of the single-family home and a patch of green to call their own, but as the family changes and our cities and towns begin to look different to keep up, that idea may well change, too.

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